You hear it on radio, you read it in national and local news, you have to listen to it on a regularly from fellow fans and couch-analysts alike – the Cowboys are going 8-8 or less.
The reason offered? The Cowboys organization did nothing to improve what was a horrendous defense in 2013; many further suggesting that the defense may in fact be worse as a result of losing DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee, the best players on the 2013 defense.
Certainly, there is some truth to that. The Cowboys defense was terrible last year and despite statistical proof suggesting we should see improvement, I understand things can always be worse. But this year is a new year and the Cowboys, contrary to popular belief, actually made several moves in the offseason to remedy their many leaks on the defensive side of the ball.
It's safe to say the Cowboys didn’t sit on their hands during the offseason.
A concerted effort was made to address the issues of last year, with a predominant focus on correcting their depth issues. Considering that there are only so many moves a team can make in Free Agency/Draft, especially whilst the Cowboys have had to contend with a limited cap, I'd say the Cowboys made quite a few changes on the defensive side of the ball.
Perhaps the real question is the quality of those moves – unfortunately, we will have to wait for the season to unfold to bring out a measuring stick. But at this point, I'm counting on six of the above sixteen players to be significant contributors. Could be more or less, depending on injuries and surprise contributors.
The other aspect of potential improvement this defense experienced to consider is that the Cowboys are in their second year in the attacking 4-3.
By merit of being more comfortable in the new scheme, several returning players should show some type of improvement from last year. Players such as Morris Claiborne, Bruce Carter, J.J. Wilcox, Kyle Wilber, DeVonte Holloman, Orie Lemon, among a few others, are entering the put-up or shut-up phase of their careers. Clearly some will answer in the negative, if not yield the same results of 2013; that is the nature of this sport. But serious odds would be defied if all of them ended up being blank rounds in Marinelli’s revolver.
The last thing that tends to get ignored in the “Cowboys defense is terrible” conversation/debate is that the Cowboys offense doesn’t need as much help as the average NFL offense.
This Cowboys offense will be good to great…with the only caveat being if Tony Romo can stay healthy. It is not outside the realm of possibility for the Cowboys to average above and beyond 28 points per game; in fact, considering they averaged 27.4 in 2013, I would take the over on that easily…possibly higher depending on the stakes.
So while this defense may not be the shutdown/shutout defense that places teams on contender-watch, that's not exactly necessary for the Cowboys to finally post a winning record after three years and make the playoffs. The Cowboys are absolute contenders within their division, and should be considered by their divisional foes as the team to beat, having posted a 5-6 record in 2013.
Consider the Cowboys 2014 regular season schedule and the offensive/defensive rank each team posted in 2013.
Teams (overall offensive rank / overall defensive rank in 2013):
|49ers (24th / 5th)
Titans (22nd / 14th)
Rams (30th / 15th)
Saints (4th / 4th)
Texans (11th / 7th)
Seahawks (18th / 1st)
Giants (28th / 8th)
Redskins (9th / 18th)
|Cardinals (12th / 6th)
Jaguars (31st / 27th)
Giants (28th / 8th)
Eagles (2nd / 29th)
Bears (8th / 30th)
Eagles (2nd / 29th)
Colts (15th / 20th)
Redskins (9th / 18th)
*Cowboys (16th / 32nd)
Granted, not too many conclusions can be drawn from the above – too many inconsistent variables occur over the course of a season, notwithstanding the fact that each of these teams played a different schedule and played the same teams at different times and different strengths. Furthermore, many of these teams evolved over the offseason and very well could show vast improvement on one or both sides of the ball. By that same logic, many of these teams could also show regression as a result of injury, key contributors lost in the offseason, career slumps or a combination of the three.
However, one argument to be made is that teams that are stronger on the defensive side of the ball and not so much on the offensive side, such as the 49ers, Seahawks, and Giants, will at the very least be a good game for the Cowboys…not necessarily a win, mind you, but you can count on them being close.
The opposition that transversely shows to be a strength on offense and not on defense such as the Bears, Eagles and Redskins, are the games that very well could be decided by who has the ball last in a shootout. Once again, likely still a relatively close game.
The teams the Cowboys really have to be concerned about are teams who prove to be a strong on both sides of the ball like the Saints, Cardinals and (believe it or not) the Texans. Finally, the teams that prove to be neither a strength on offense or defense, the Cowboys should be able to win, such as the Jaguars, Titans and Rams. The only wild card team left is the Colts, who were pretty mediocre on both sides of the ball, which gives them an edge over the Cowboys…for now.
The point is, in games that are close and somewhat evenly matched, it could go either way for the Cowboys. It very well may come down to the head coach with the best in-game management. Clearly Garrett has struggled in this area in the past, however, with the addition of Scott Linehan taking the reins of the offense, in-game management is an area that I am expecting improvement in.
Last year, there were three games in which game management was the deciding factor that led to losses for a Cowboys team that held a lead in the 3rd quarter against the Chargers, Lions, and Packers. The Cowboys win any one of those games, and week 17 would not have mattered; the Cowboys would have gone to the playoffs. Improvement in that area alone, regardless of what was done on either side of the ball throughout the offseason, could be the difference in whether or not the Cowboys finally post a winning record after three years of mediocrity.
To be honest, with the unknown quantities and question marks that literally arise at every position across the defense, it’s difficult for me to confidently predict anything higher than 9-7. But as I argued in a previous contribution, there is a difference between having questions and knowing the defense has not improved.
We are in the zero hour of this season. Expectations should remain tempered. But a losing season is far from being a foregone conclusion.
NFL to Study Marijuana Use, Will It Impact Randy Gregory’s Status?
The NFLPA and the NFL have reached an agreement to research alternative pain-management tools for the players. They'll form joint medical committees to study different strategies, among which will be the use of marijuana. It's important to make it clear that said committees will not be exclusively about marijuana, but a lot of different issues related to pain-management in the league. However, it'll likely be one of the most important aspects of their work.
Marijuana continues to be a highly debated topic and it's no different when discussing the NFL. Dallas Cowboys fans should be very familiar with the situation. Earlier this year, David Irving "quit" on football during an Instagram live stream while smoking weed. In the video, Irving talks about how he thinks it's better to be addicted to marijuana rather than certain medications used by NFL teams to treat their players.
Although David Irving is not an authority on substances, that is where all of this debate centers around. Throughout the league, players are given strong medication to deal with injuries and the physical pain of playing pro football. I'm not an expert either, but it's more than fair to say there's a strong argument here. Specially in a country where marijuana has already been legalized in 10 states and the trend points toward legalization continuing.
The current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) between the NFL and NFLPA will expire after the 2020 season and how the league's drug policy looks like in the new agreement will be a huge factor for reaching a satisfactory CBA for both sides.
Of course, the fact that the NFLPA and the league are working together on such an important task doesn't mean we will see any immediate changes or that the NFL's ban on marijuana will be lifted anytime soon. Many big question marks will have to be answered before we hear about teams implementing this substance as a pain management tool.
For the Dallas Cowboys, this will be a relevant narrative down the line. Pass rusher Randy Gregory was reinstated after serving an indefinite suspension due to substance abuse prior to the 2018 season. After a dominant year, Gregory was suspended again by the NFL and it all points toward him sitting out this upcoming season and perhaps even more.
Even still, the Cowboys are still standing behind their 2015 second round pick. If the league ends up lifting its ban on marijuana, they'll have to decide what they will do with players already serving a suspension for this reason. Guys like Randy Gregory, for instance. If it's decided they'll be reinstated to the NFL, the Cowboys will sure be glad to have supported Gregory all throughout the process.
Last year, the pass rusher proved how effective he could be even with a short period of time training. Hopefully, the Cowboys are able to get him back on the field eventually, where's been consistently dominant. In the meantime, we'll see how recently acquired Robert Quinn does in Dallas.
The NFL won't be lifting its ban anytime soon, but it's good to know they're at least open minded to changing the league's policy and consider alternatives that could benefit the players' health. We'll see how these new medical committees work and keep you updated here at Inside The Star.
Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?
Despite their insistence that upgrading the safety position was a top offseason priority, the Dallas Cowboys haven't really done much to improve the backend of their secondary. They did sign former Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals Safety George Iloka as a free agent and drafted Donovan Wilson in the sixth-round in this year's NFL Draft, but neither player looks like a clear-cut upgrade at this point. Fortunately, there's still time to find Xavier Woods' counterpart for 2019.
Xavier Woods is the only clear-cut starter at safety currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to who starts opposite him this season. With that in mind, the Cowboys should be keeping all of their options open, including acquiring players who get released or even making a trade for someone they like. The latter is what I want to talk about today.
A potential safety who could be put on the trade block that I'm kind of intrigued with is Josh Jones, who has reportedly requested a trade from the Green Bay Packers.
Packers safety Josh Jones is skipping the voluntary OTAs and working out in Florida because he's hoping to be traded, a source told ESPN. The source said the 2017 second-round pick believes it would be best for both parties if they parted ways. Story coming on ESPN shortly.
Josh Jones clearly sees where he stands with the Green Bay Packers after they signed Adrian Amos in free agency and drafted Darnell Savage Jr. 21st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, thus his absence from OTA's and trade request. He understands the business and knows he's not going to see the field much behind those two, meaning his best chance for playing time would be in a different uniform.
It's not all that shocking Jones has requested a trade. Even before the Packers added Amos and Savage he wasn't receiving a lot of playing time. He's just never seemed to fit into what Green Bay was trying to do on the backend of their defense. It may be in the best interest of both parties to mutually part ways. This is where the Dallas Cowboys come in.
I believe Josh Jones is exactly the type of safety Kris Richard would like to pair Xavier Woods with on the backend of the Cowboys defense. He fits the criteria Richard likes in his defensive backs as far as size, length, and speed are concerned. And, he also has the kind of skill set/mindset to become that Kam Chancellor "enforcer" type of strong safety.
Josh Jones is at his best when he can play around the line of scrimmage, much like Chancellor was during his time with the Seahawks. But, Jones also has the ability to be a factor in coverage as well. The only real question here is whether or not he's an upgrade over the likes of Jeff Heath, George Iloka, and maybe even rookie Donovan Wilson?
In all honesty, I don't have the answer to that question. Josh Jones really hasn't received a fair opportunity to prove himself in his first two years in the NFL. I believe the skill set is there to start in the league, but there's not much there to back up that belief.
Personally, I'd be willing to part way with a late round pick if I were the Cowboys to acquire Josh Jones. I like the idea of bringing him in to work with Kris Richard and allowing him to compete for the starting job next to Xavier Woods. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward move Dallas likes to gamble on, and it could potentially pay off in a big way.
Where do you stand? Should the Cowboys consider trading for Josh Jones?
How Can The Cowboys Force More Turnovers In 2019?
2018 seemed like the beginning of a new era. A defensive era. For the first time in years the Cowboys were able to consistently lean on their defense during games, staying alive even as their offense sputtered and limped through stretches early in the season.
The defense was downright prolific some weeks. They carried the Cowboys to an inspiring home victory over the New Orleans Saints to put them in prime position to make the playoffs. They dominated the Wild Card game in key moments, making key stops and holding the Seahawks to just 22 points in the win. They featured one of the league's best individual pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, an All Pro cornerback in Byron Jones, and one of the league's most exciting young linebacker duos.
For all of this success, this defense still lacked one thing. Takeaways.
The Cowboys forced only 9 interceptions in 2018, ranking 26th across the league. In fact, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was actually tied with Xavier Woods for the team lead in interceptions with just 2. When it comes to total takeaways the Cowboys' defense was a little better off, though, finishing 16th in the NFL.
Part of the "problem" seems to be their philosophy. The Cowboys have finished 26th, 24th, 27th, and 31st in interceptions dating back to 2015. They've also finished 9th, 25th, 18th, and 19th in team defense DVOA over that same stretch. Clearly there was an improvement in total defense in 2018, but neither their team defense nor ability to take the ball away has been strong since 2015.
The bigger problem, really, is a lack of luck. While this sounds like a cop-out, takeaways often do come down to just that. Of course putting yourself in the right place at the right time to benefit from a batted pass or overthrown ball matters, but those bounces finding the right hands is usually a matter of luck.
Turnovers are incredibly volatile year to year, and as much as you'd like your players to "make their own luck," randomness does play a part here.
You can certainly argue the Cowboys have done their best this offseason to increase their chances at takeaways, however. By trading for defensive end Robert Quinn, re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence, and adding talented players to the middle of their defensive line as well, Dallas has put an emphasis on getting after the quarterback and corralling the opposing running game. Putting pressure on quarterbacks can force them into quick decision making or bad throws, which could in turn breed interceptions.
This is far from guaranteed, though. Plus the Cowboys play against some of the league's top quarterbacks this year, which hurts their chances of taking the ball away further.
In the end the Cowboys will need both the skill of their pass rushers and defensive backs to put them in good positions, and luck to smile down on them, if they'd like to turn around their takeaway numbers in 2019. And after all, this demoralizing trend has to reverse itself at some point, doesn't it?
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